TokePure on CLEAR – click here

A campaign to get cannabis users to stop smoking tobacco is the biggest and simplest harm reduction campaign the government could and should be running. This is an issue that affects millions of mostly young people.  In all honesty, tobacco use is by far and away the biggest danger to health cannabis users face, strange then that the government has never done anything to address the issue. The cannabis law reform campaign CLEAR in association with UKCIA is about to put that right.

It’s been a long time coming. Tokepure was born around 1995 as a “safer smoking campaign” after I had approached the local drugs information campaign here in Norwich called The Matthew Project. Back then I had the idea of involving the drug advice agencies in a cannabis law reform campaign based on the proper regulation of the commercial trade, Matthew Project was the local one so off I went to talk to them.

I had been along to meetings of the old CLCIA – the grandly named “Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association” which had set itself up here in Norwich a couple of years earlier. I was uneasy with the approach they wanted to take, which was very much “free the weed” and more or less from day one I didn’t fit in too well.

So I engaged with the Matthew Project and in particular one of their workers called Mark. Mark was very interested in the whole recreational drug scene and devoted some not inconsiderable time to talking the whole issue through with me. We covered a large amount of ground concerning the social effects of a regulated cannabis trade and what the health  effects of such a development might be.  One of the issues we debated was smoking and in particular the connection with tobacco and after a particularly memorable discussion one evening, I had to admit he was right. Whatever the harms of cannabis may or may not be, smoking the stuff with a fist full of tobacco was not really a very clever thing to do.

In April 1994 after a couple of failed attempts I finally managed to grit my teeth and dive headlong into tobacco cold turkey, which apart from anything else did little to endear me to the rest of the CLCIA members. Truth is I became a born again non-smoker and began evangelising the message to a lot of people who really didn’t want to listen to it. I may have learned a lot from Mark the drugs adviser, but how to put the message across was not one of them.

But out of all this came the idea for a safer smoking campaign and once I had come down from the buzz of having seen the non-smoking light I set about trying to convince other cannabis law reform campaigners of the merit of an anti tobacco campaign.  In 1998 I took over the running of this website, UKCIA, and in 2000 launched the first version of a proper Tokepure campaign.

A lot of water has flowed through a great many bongs around the country in the past 11 years and many things have changed. Most importantly of course tobacco smoking has been driven from the mainstream to the fringes of society and these days the fact that tobacco is a  dangerously addictive and carcinogenic drug is widely understood. But cannabis is still mostly smoked in tobacco filled joints. The other big development is that the UK finally has a serious cannabis law reform campaign in the shape of CLEAR and as Tokepure fits CLEAR’s agenda perfectly it has now been adopted as one of the major core campaigns.

Millions of people – often young people – start smoking tobacco because they try cannabis and the idea of Tokepure is to break that connection. Tokepure does not claim cannabis is harmless or without risk but simply points out that adding tobacco is only going to make things very much worse.

There are many  reasons for wanting to see this change, all of them worth serious consideration:

1: All smoking is probably bad to be honest and the less of it you do the better. Smoking pure cannabis involves breathing in far less smoke than a tobacco joint provides.

2: There is some debate as to whether cannabis is carcinogenic, cannabis smoke certainly contains carcinogens. But when actual pure cannabis smoking populations are examined we don’t find the cancers the prohibition supporters had been predicting (here or here for example)

Tobacco however is a very different story, we know without doubt the damage it does. So whatever the risk posed by cannabis, tobacco is a known killer and mixing tobacco with cannabis in a joint makes a joint a killer.

3: Cannabis may be habit forming for a minority of users, it’s generally claimed that around 10% get some kind of “dependency”, although it’s usually fairly mild. Tobacco however is fiercely addictive – both physically and psychologically.  As I can personally attest stopping tobacco was horrendously difficult and very unpleasant, far more difficult that stopping cannabis was when I eventually did that some years later.

Because of this highly addictive nature, tobacco smoking cannabis users more often than not satisfy their tobacco craving by rolling a joint. The long and short of that being to make cannabis users smoke a lot more cannabis than they would otherwise do. It doesn’t work for everyone, but anecdotal feedback, having had Tokepure on UKCIA for over 10 years , suggests most people cut their cannabis consumption by close to 50% simply by stopping the tobacco. That was certainly what happened for me. It also makes cannabis use far less habitual, a half smoked pipe can be left for later whereas a tobacco joint is always smoked down the roach.

If there is any truth in the claims that cannabis is connected with mental illness, this aspect is clearly important.

Lastly there a simple activist reason to promote Tokepure, it deprives the government of money. The war on drugs is partly funded of course by the huge amount of tax paid on tobacco.

Tobacco is a strange drug, it doesn’t seem to “do” anything, it doesn’t make its users high or stoned or in anyway intoxicated. What it does do however is to mess about with the dopamine flow in the brain and in so doing it makes the smoker feel happy about having smoked. If ever there were a losers drug, tobacco is it. Interestingly tobacco has another strange effect, it makes other drugs taken at the same time much more enjoyable which is why fags were so closely associated with drinking – a pint and a fag in the pub was seen as a traditional part of British culture until very recently.

It’s also worth pointing out that the vast majority of problem drug users – of street drugs anyway (including alcohol) – are also heavy tobacco users, as are people with severe mental illness. As UKCIA is always keen to point out correlation does not equal cause, but the close relation between problematic drug use, mental illness and tobacco use does give food for thought.

The TokePure demands are simple:

* A Safer use campaign: The government should be advising the millions of cannabis users how to use cannabis as safely as possible through a safer toking campaign.

A Pipesafe policy: The carrying of pipes and other safer ways of consuming cannabis (what they call “paraphernalia”) should no longer count as evidence of illegal drug use and headshops should be encouraged to sell safer smoking equipment.

You can see the TokePure page on CLEAR here. Probably the most important campaign ever launched in the name of cannabis law reform.